Wednesday, April 29, 2009

We don't want to be Congress' palanquin bearers: Karat

This is a concession by Karat that CPM was in fact a palanquin bearer of Congress during the UPA regime. kalyan

We don't want to be Congress' palanquin bearers: Karat
Agencies Posted online: Wednesday, Apr 29, 2009 at 1503 hrs

New Delhi : CPI(M) foresees a realignment of political forces after the Lok Sabha elections in favour of the Third Front and rules out supporting Congress in government formation as it does not not want to be its "palanquin bearers". The party says it will also "very seriously" consider joining a non-Congress secular government and does not outrightly rule out the possibility of heading such a formation.
In a wide-ranging interview to PTI, CPI(M) General Secretary Prakash Karat spoke on various issues including on how the Left parties would approach the Indo-US nuclear deal, an issue on which they withdrew support to the UPA government, and on the Sri Lankan issue. He was not in agreement with NCP leader Sharad Pawar that the Left parties would have to support the Congress and the UPA it heads in the post-poll scenario to keep the BJP out.
"We don't have to be palanquin bearers for anyone. There is no danger of BJP coming to power at the Centre this time. The choice will be a non-Congress secular government or a Congress-led government. I don't think the BJP is going to be in the picture," Karat said. He said in fact more parties would join the Third
Front after the elections. "We expect a realignment of forces after the elections. I am saying parties which are not with us now will come towards us," he said.
The overall trend, Karat said, has been very clear that the UPA has practically ceased to exist. Most of the parties (of the UPA) are finding their own way and parting company with the Congress as far as the elections are concerned. "All these parties will have to decide after the elections what they propose to do," he said. But when asked whether the realignment could also affect his combination, the CPI(M) leader said the parties of the Front have come into the grouping with the aim of defeating both the Congress and the BJP and their respective allies in the states.
"We have already discussed that we need to carry forward this after the Lok Sabha elections and to see that we form a government at the Centre. The regional parties that have joined with the Left parties have a stake in this project," he said. Asked if he had parties like RJD and LJP in mind when he talked about realignment, Karat said the Front has made a general appeal to all non-Congress secular parties to come together on a joint platform for pro-people economic and independent foreign policies and in defence of secularism. "Many of these parties share this approach and it is up to them to decide," he said.
To another question about Pawar's statement that the Congress and the UPA cannot ignore the Left and have to do business with it after the elections, Karat said "his intentions are good. "But as far as we are concerned, we cannot accept and support a Congress-led government. We are working for a government which will be a non-Congress secular one."
Asked if he would mind the Congress being part of it, the CPI(M) leader said it was for the Congress to decide whether it would facilitate formation of a secular government. "It is for them to decide." He dismissed a view that the position of Congress and the Left was only posturing before elections. "Let us see what happens. After the elections, everybody's position will become clear. My party adopts a political line. It is not some on-the-spur of the moment decision. "We have adopted a political line in which we have called for the defeat of Congress and the BJP and the formation of an alternative secular government. We will work for that to succeed. Let us see."
Asked about the possibility of the CPI(M) joining government at the Centre unlike in 1996 when it spurned an offer, Karat said it had been a long-standing policy (not to join a government if it cannot influence its policies) and it would take a decision after the elections.
Karat said "but we cannot say what type of government will be formed after the elections. If a non-Congress and secular government is feasible, then the matter will be taken up by us." He said last time, the matter was not not taken up very seriously because it was a Congress-led government and the party did not want to join it. "As I said, if there is a non-Congress government, the matter will be considered very seriously," he said.
Asked if the party would agree to have its own Prime Minister if an opportunity came its way, Karat said "first of all, let us discuss whether we will join a government. Then we will see what is to be done. "There are various factors we have to take into account when we decide to join a government. So let us first see what are those circumstances and then we will take a decision," the CPI(M) leader said.
On his assessment of the polls so far, he said it was clear there was a three-way contest between Congress and its allies, BJP and its allies and the non-Congress, non-BJP combination. In states like Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala, the parties of the Third Front were ahead, he said. To a question about Pawar's view that CPI(M) and BSP together would not cross 65-70 seats and the Third Front would not be in a position to form a government, he said Pawar has forgotten parties like BJD, TDP, JD(S), AIADMK, PMK and others of this front.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Left in the lurch

Left in the lurch

Karats can seek succour in Venezuela to repent for their chamcha-ing Antonia.


Left could go down to 22 seats in Bengal

Kanchan Gupta | Kolkata (Pioneer, Sunday, April 26, 2009 )

Muslims, one in 3 voters, desert CPM

As people in West Bengal prepare to vote on April 30 in the first of three rounds of polling for the 15th Lok Sabha, the ruling CPI(M)-led Left Front faces what could turn out to be its worst-ever electoral performance.

According to conservative estimates cutting across party lines, the Trinamool Congress-Congress alliance could notch up an impressive tally of 14 to 17 of the 42 seats in the State. If the popular mood prevailing from north to south Bengal is any indication, the Opposition could end up winning anything between 18 and 20 seats.

Whatever the final tally, there is mounting apprehension at Alimuddin Street, where the CPI(M)’s headquarters is located, that the Marxists will suffer a setback worse than that of 1984 when the Congress won 16 seats in the election that followed Indira Gandhi’s assassination.

In that election, the Left suffered reverses in urban areas. This time, the losses are stacking up in rural constituencies. The projected losses are largely concentrated in south Bengal where the Trinamool Congress is running an aggressive campaign.

Little over a fortnight ago, the CPI(M)’s election strategists were horrified to find that the Left Front’s 2004 tally of 35 seats was at risk of being whittled down to 20 to 22 seats.

All hands were called to deck and a massive effort was launched to paper over differences within the CPI(M) and between the party and its allies in the Left Front. Simultaneously, zonal and local committees were asked to reach out to disgruntled party supporters who were toying with the idea of voting against the Left. Third, the counter-attack on the Trinamool Congress was sharpened, focusing on Mamata Banerjee's inability to come up with a positive agenda.

These steps appear to have had some impact in preventing the Left’s electoral fortunes from declining further. What has helped the CPI(M) recover some lost ground is the Trinamool’s over-emphasis on running a vitriolic campaign which includes large posters and banners that are graphically illustrated with gory visuals of charred bodies, allegedly victims of Marxist violence.

Two visuals that have been used repeatedly are those of Tapashi Mullick, who was raped and killed in Singur. The first visual shows an innocent faced teenaged girl. The second shows her half-burnt body. In a variation of this theme, some posters show four men pinning down Tapashi Mullick while a fifth man rapes her.

Such graphic depiction of violence has begun to put off people. Sensing the disquiet over the Opposition’s campaign, the CPI(M) has used all available space to publicise its ‘development agenda’ and how Mamata Banerjee is preventing the State from moving ahead. “We have a positive agenda. She is running a negative campaign,” says CPI(M) State secretary Biman Bose.

But nothing that the CPI(M) does or says at this stage will stop this poll from turning out to be the tipping point that has eluded the Opposition in West Bengal for three decades.

The push that will enable Banerjee to cross the hump which stands between victory and defeat will be provided by Bengal’s Muslims who are said to comprise 26% of the electorate but in reality could account for one in every three voters. Banerjee claims (since it suits her to do so) and most people believe (since they are

influenced by TV news) that Muslim alienation from the Marxists is on account of Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s farmland-for-industry policy, which has been kept in limbo ever since the Singur disaster. But the real reason why Muslims have decided to disown the Marxists lies elsewhere.

Ironically, that reason is the revelation by the Sachar Committee, which was supported by the Left to spite the BJP, about how Muslims in West Bengal are far worse off than in any other State, including Narendra Modi’s Gujarat. Confronted with this reality, Bengal’s Muslims have begun to question the wisdom of supporting the Left.

The man who took the Sachar Committee’s revelation to the Muslim masses is Siddiqullah Chowdhury of the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind. He has put up a dozen candidates in Muslim-dominated constituencies. But that could be a red herring, meant to divert attention as the community quietly consolidates behind Banerjee. And gives her the cutting edge she needs to defeat the CPI(M) in West Bengal.

How the table has turned
• CPM will take rural hit
• Mamata-Cong eye windfall of up to 17 seats
• Overkill of graphic imagery of Singur rape case may hit Cong

Array and disarray in the Left

MJ Akbar (Pioneer, Sunday, April 26, 2009 )

Leaders come in two cultures. One sort of leader accepts the necessity of accountability in public life. This group is in a minority. The majority follows a law, which their followers know only too well: “If we win, I get the credit; if we lose, you get the blame”.

It is ironic that the best democrats in Indian democracy are the Marxists, whose ideology demands class war rather than the more genteel business of planting your finger on a symbol. They treat their party as an institution, not an individual’s or family’s private property. Decisions are made through a collective system, not sent to a single individual for a royal assent or dissent. Responsibility is assigned to individuals, and individuals are stripped (as far as is humanly possible) of their ego. This is perhaps why ex-Marxists become so egotistic; all those decades of suppressed ego is suddenly let loose upon the world. There are rewards for success, even when this leads to stagnation. During 33 years of Marxist rule in West Bengal there have been only two Chief Ministers, Mr Jyoti Basu and Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. Mr Basu left because of age; he was not pushed out. No one is pushed out. More remarkably, there have been only two Finance Ministers, Mr Ashok Mitra and Mr Ashim Dasgupta. Mr Mitra resigned on an issue of principle, otherwise he might have retired only along with his friend, Mr Jyoti Basu, once again because of age. If you win elections you can do no wrong.

And that is what the problem might be in 2009. Mr Bhattacharjee could lead the Left in West Bengal to its first major setback in three decades.

The buzz in Kolkata has already moved towards post-modern: Mr Bhattacharjee has decided to resign if he cannot ensure 25 seats out of 42 for his side. How do the Kolkata addawallahs know? Political information is always porous. The man at the top of the pyramid has merely to make an observation to a confidant or two; the latter discuss the possibility with their close comrades, and word rolls down along the sides of the pyramid to reach the dabblers and journalists on the lower ledges.

There are at least three distinctive aspects of this story.

First, a Chief Minister is planning to take responsibility for failure. Politicians across the country will do badly; after all, someone has to lose for another to win. Every other politician is thinking deep thoughts on how to cling on despite defeat. This of course does not apply to dynasts, who will look for generals to hang.

Second, 25 seats out of 42 is still a clear majority. But the Left has set the bar high and will not lower it.

Third, by levelling the bar at 25, the Left has already psychologically conceded 17 seats to the Trinamool-Congress combine. Even at the height of the Congress wave following the assassination of Mrs Indira Gandhi, the Left had conceded fewer seats.

There are two reasons for this. The Muslim vote, estimated to be over 35 per cent, has switched away in large numbers. And there is no split in the anti-Left vote after the Congress accepted the slightly humiliating terms that Ms Mamata Banerjee offered during seat-sharing talks. The Marxists tried, with Mr Pranab Mukherjee’s help, to sabotage this, but final orders came from Ms Sonia Gandhi in Delhi and it went ahead. The Congress, which had six MPs in the last Lok Sabha, accepted only 16 seats out of 42. Ms Mamata, who had only one, catapulted to 28.

The Left read a clear message in this decision. The Congress was treating the Left, rather than the BJP, as its principal enemy in this general election. How? Because in the States where an alliance would have hurt the BJP, like Jharkhand, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, the Congress rejected an alliance with leaders who could have helped defeat the BJP, like Mr Shibu Soren, Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav, Mr Ram Vilas Paswan and Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav. The distribution of seats in Jharkhand had even been announced, but the arrangement collapsed suddenly, and inexplicably, at the last minute. As a consequence, the BJP will pick up vital extra seats in a State where it was comprehensively defeated five years ago.

The Marxists do not consider this accidental. They believe this to be part of a careful Congress strategy to marginalise the Left. There is nothing personal or sentimental about their response. They will not permit the Congress to lead another Government because they are convinced that it will use every tactic, political and administrative, behind a screen of conciliatory words, to pursue the same objective if it returns to Government. They know it is a battle of survival and they intend to survive.

They can also sense an opportunity to do unto the Congress precisely what the Congress did unto them: Use power, with the Congress support in Parliament, to target policies which the Congress has made part of its core personality, economic reform and the India-US nuclear deal. That is the dilemma which the Congress faces. Can it support a Government with a Marxist Foreign Minister who announces an abrogation of the nuclear deal? Surely Mr Manmohan Singh would never find the flexibility to support a Government in Parliament that sabotaged his main achievement. What would the Congress do in such circumstances? It is not a question of swallowing one’s pride. It would be political suicide.

Nor should anyone believe that Marxists would compromise in order to save a non-Congress, non-BJP patchwork Government. They have an agenda, which is in the public domain. They will implement it. The CPI(M) is not going to enter the history books — this is the first time they will join a Government in Delhi, if the chance arises — as having betrayed its core commitment, anti-imperialism, in order to stick to office. This is high on its list of campaign themes, as anyone interested in West Bengal and Kerala will know.

The Left will not do well. It will be mowed down in both Kerala and West Bengal, but it will still have around 40 seats in the next Parliament. Both Mr Sharad Pawar and Mr Manmohan Singh acknowledge, the first happily and the second reluctantly, that a non-BJP Government is impossible without the support of the Left. Curiously, the Left, with 60 MPs, may have been less relevant to a Government’s survival in 2004 than it could be with 35 or 40 in 2009.

It would be paradoxical, would it not, if Mr Prakash Karat were being sworn in as Foreign Minister in Delhi and Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee were submitting his resignation in Kolkata? But stranger things have happened.

Let me suggest one of them. If the BJP becomes the single largest party, you would be surprised by the number of small parties which suddenly discover the virtues of stability at a moment of economic crisis. The Left will be actually relieved: It can be where it is happiest — in the Opposition.

-- MJ Akbar is chairman of the fortnightly news magazine Covert.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Combat red terror -- Former Chief of Army Staff
To combat red terror, tackle its root causes
Shankar Roychowdhury (Asian Age, 21 April 2009)
April.21: Many people might have missed the small news item on the inside pages of newspapers, and the brief mention on the news wires scrolling at the bottom of certain television channels. Nine personnel of the CRPF’s 55th Battalion killed and 11, including an assistant commandant, injured in a two-hour clash with Naxalites on April 10 in Dantewada district of the southern Bastar region of Chhattisgarh. A couple of days earlier two police constables had been killed in the same area when their jeep was blown up by a landmine. A fairly major encounter in terms of casualties, but passing almost unnoticed with national attention focused on the elections and IPL.
Then, a couple of days later, bigger news: Naxalites in strength, between 70 and 120 of them, attacked the National Aluminium Company’s bauxite mining complex at Damanjodi in Orissa’s Koraput district, in a bid to hijack explosives, weapons and ammunition. The information is sketchy, but up to 10 or 11 CISF persons were reported killed, around the same number injured, while the attackers reportedly suffered up to seven casualties. They ransacked the CISF armoury and appeared to have got away with some amount of explosives.
But the full fury was to come four days later, April 16, the first day of the five-part general election across the country. The Naxalites struck in many of their old battlegrounds — in a series of rapid-fire attacks across Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar, Orissa and Maharashtra. Eleven police and paramilitary personnel as well as eight civilians, including personnel on election duty, were killed. Just a day earlier, the Election Commission had pronounced itself "totally satisfied" with the poll arrangements. There are four phases of the election still to go — what lies ahead for us?
The electoral processes of our democracy have never held much appeal, or relevance, for many original inhabitants of this land — adivasi tribals of many ethnicities — who have often found any encounter with the Indian State a cruel and humiliating experience. Many of them have now decided to take matters into their own hands.
Welcome to the "people’s war" raging inside the guts of our country, inhabited by its most desperately poor and marginalised communities. The heartland of this faraway conflict is the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh, almost a "dark continent" to much of the rest of India, where the Abujmarh, a huge forest, unsurveyed and unmapped even six decades after Independence, is virtually a "no-go" area for government forces. Comparisons with the Iron Triangle and "Special Zone D" set up near Saigon by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War are obvious and irresistible. Are we too headed in that direction?
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently described the Naxalites, officially categorised as "left-wing extremists" (LWE), as the "greatest internal security threat to the country". Let there be no doubt, Naxalism is a totally home-grown problem which we have brought upon ourselves, and for which no external elements can be blamed. Venally corrupt local administrations, particularly at the state level, have maintained a vacuum of total neglect in rural areas over the past six decades, and more specifically in the adivasi zones of extreme deprivation. Maoist LWE began in these regions, and this is now well on its way to becoming a rural insurgency in the classic Maoist mode: holding significant control of a strategic "compact revolutionary zone" (CRZ) stretching over 12 to 14 states and up to 156 districts, all predominantly of tribal communities, astride a Golden Quadrilateral deep in the Indian heartland.
More dangerously, the CRZ has created a "red corridor" of internal instability, stretching from Prachanda’s Maobadi Nepal right down to the dry and desiccated forest regions of peninsular India. In relative terms, the Maoist CRZ poses a much greater potential threat to India’s national security than either the jihadis in Kashmir, the Indian Mujahideen, or the Naga and Meitei underground in Nagaland and Manipur. The reasons are obvious — Kashmir, Nagaland, Manipur and indeed the entire Northeast are all located on the external peripheries of the country, and events there have only a limited impact on the nation’s heartland. But Maoist LWE is active deep within the geographical and geo-political gut of the heartland, and can more directly and immediately impact and disrupt the country’s political, economic, transportation, communications and security infrastructure.
Therefore, of all the internal conflicts which plague India, Maoist LWE offers the most attractive high-value low-cost strategic option for external exploitation. Rest assured: Pakistan, Bangladesh, and perhaps even "Maobadi Nepal" — as a proxy for the People’s Republic of China — are eyeing it very closely indeed.
The functional contrasts between the Maoists and the government could not be more striking, or startling. The Maoists function through a fairly centralised hierarchy and reasonably well-coordinated politico-military command and control structure for inter-state coordination, which extends right down to the villages through a network of political and military committees at central, regional, state, and zonal levels. The policy of the Union government can best be described as perplexing experimentation with decentralised anti-Naxal operations by individual state governments within their respective boundaries, according to their respective political agendas and initiatives, coordinated through a system of bureaucratic consultation through inter-state committees, where participation is often optional. State police forces and the paramilitary units they are allotted are often tied down by jurisdiction issues and problems in inter-state movement, whereas their opponents, the Naxals, can concentrate and disperse swiftly according to operational needs.
History is repeating itself: Shivaji is running rings around Aurangzeb. Time is precious, but is being wasted in a policy of drift, while the Maoists consolidate their hold in the so-called "liberated zones". Policies to alleviate the situation have to be urgently initiated. "Alleviate" is the keyword, not "defeat" — because attempts to defeat a people’s movement, which has arisen due to genuine problems, will ultimately end up defeating the nation itself, and tearing it apart in the process. Central intervention or executive direction, preferably direct, is essential in such a diverse and fragmented political milieu of totally divergent ideologies, with each state nursing problems of local personality cults and ego-perceptions. But none of this appears to be forthcoming. The Government of India and the governments of the affected states look as if they are losing this war. Whichever government comes to power after the elections, this drift has to be stopped.
Gen. Shankar Roychowdhury (Retd) is a former Chief of Army Staff and a former Member of Parliament,-tackle-its-root-causes.aspx

Friday, April 10, 2009

Karat doesn't know how to count.

The drift and decline of the Left

T V R Shenoy | April 09, 2009 | 20:53 IST

Prakash Karat told an election rally in Agartala on April 5 that it was 'thousand per cent confirmed' that the Third Front would form the government in Delhi after the Lok Sabha polls.
'Thousand per cent'? For India's sake I hope the general secretary of the Communist Party of India-Marxist is just as good a soothsayer as he is a mathematician.
India could fool around -- a little bit anyway -- with Third Front ministries back in the days when the global economy was booming; the dinosaur economics of the Left will lead only to drift and decline.
But drift and decline seem to be in the DNA of the Left. Look at the records, and you can see how the Communists have been losing ground.
Jawaharlal Nehru's Congress sprawled over the benches when the first Lok Sabha met in 1952, occupying 361 of the 489 seats. The other parties were in such disarray that the next largest category consisted of Independents, 37 MPs in all.
You could count the seats won by the Jan Sangh and the Hindu Mahasabha, the ancestors of today's Bharatiya Janata Party, on two hands -- and still have a few fingers left over. The Jan Sangh had only three MPs, the Hindu Mahasabha was slightly better off with four.
The single largest party on the Opposition benches was the undivided Communist Party of India, 16-strong and led by the late A K Gopalan. The Revolutionary Socialist Party had three MPs and the Forward Bloc added a solitary representative.
The title of 'Leader of the Opposition' was not in vogue in those days. Gopalan would not have qualified in any case since the CPI did not have 10 percent of the seats, not even close to that. But it was generally assumed back then that the party would develop into a national alternative to the Congress.
The Congress is now a pale imitation of its old self; the party cannot win 361 seats, probably not even half of that. The BJP has expanded almost twentyfold since the Jan Sangh and the Hindu Mahasabha days of 1952. But what of the Left?
Technically, the Left Front now has three times the number of MPs that it did back in the first Lok Sabha. But in some ways the Left has conceded space instead of going forward. In 1952 five of the CPI's 16 seats were from West Bengal and two from Tripura, both still Leftist bastions. But one MP was elected from Orissa and the other eight, half the total, were from the then Madras presidency. (The CPI drew a blank in Travancore-Cochin.)
The name 'Madras' is slightly misleading since the giant state included most of what is now Andhra Pradesh along with chunks of modern Kerala and Karnataka. Most of the Communist MPs won from Telugu-speaking areas, the exceptions being Gopalan from Cannanore and K Ananda Nambiar from Mayuram (Mayiladuthurai).
The point is that the CPI back then was strong enough to win seats on its own from Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu. These are states where it now plays second fiddle to regional parties.
The CPI actually improved in the 1957 polls, both geographically as well as in absolute numbers. It had 27 MPs in the second Lok Sabha, expanding into new areas -- winning four seats in the old state of Bombay and one each in Uttar Pradesh and in Punjab. In 1962 the CPI tally went up to 29, with the party now making its parliamentary debut from Bihar too.
The Congress still dreams of winning back Uttar Pradesh though it has been whipped there in every election since 1989. The BJP has long-term plans of building a strong presence in the south, with Karnataka of course already in the party's bag. Can you imagine the CPI-M on its own managing to get a single MP elected from Uttar Pradesh, or Punjab, or Gujarat and Maharashtra (collectively the old state of Bombay)?
Fellow travellers may argue that in 2004 the Left Front registered its best performance ever in terms of numbers. How do those numbers stack up?
The CPI-M won 43 seats. Twenty-six of those were from West Bengal, 12 were from Kerala, two each from Tripura and Andhra Pradesh, and one from Tamil Nadu.
The CPI-M's junior partner the CPI won ten seats. West Bengal and Kerala each contributed three, it won two in Tamil Nadu, and one each in Jharkhand and in Andhra Pradesh. (It is a disgrace that this tattered rag of an outfit continues to be given the status of a 'national' party.)
The Forward Bloc and the Revolutionary Socialist Party each won three seats in West Bengal. Sebastian Paul, running as an independent candidate backed by the Left, won the Ernakulam seat in Kerala, as did the Janata Dal-Secular's M P Veerendra Kumar in Calicut.
Going through the lists above it is clear that the bulk of these 61 seats came courtesy of West Bengal (35) and Kerala (17). I suppose it is possible that the Left Front shall do fairly well once again in West Bengal. But it is hard to see a repeat performance in Kerala where the CPI-M chief minister and the local party boss can barely bring themselves to be civil to each other.
The problem for the Left Front is that, for all practical purposes, it does not exist outside West Bengal, Kerala, and tiny Tripura. Any major losses in West Bengal and Kerala simply cannot be made up by gains in other states.
Forget about the Third Front, there is a possibility that either the Bahujan Samaj Party or the Samajwadi Party shall overtake the CPI-M as the third-largest party in the Lok Sabha behind the BJP and the Congress. Will Comrade Karat then run around trying to create a Fourth Front?
Rereading Prakash Karat's statement, I note that the CPI-M boss spoke only of 'forming a government', not of winning a majority. That is the story of the Communist movement in India in a nutshell, it is a group that prefers to cut deals behind closed doors rather than reach out to India to win the people's mandate.